MORE than $11 million in grants is up for grabs for cane growers in North Queensland to implement on-farm practices that will protect the Great Barrier Reef.
Canegrowers can apply for grants of up to $500,000 to identify and undertake projects that will reduce fertiliser use and nitrogen runoff while still maintaining their yields.
A total of $11.8 million will be available for growers in the Burdekin and Wet Tropics areas under round three of the Australian Government’s $225 million Reef Trust program.
Canegrowers CEO Dan Galligan said the program had been successful, with projects so far delivering a reduction of 285 tonnes of nitrogen, which would have flowed into the Great Barrier Reef.
Mr Galligan said the Reef Trust program was unique in that growers were at the forefront of pioneering projects, which in turn attracted government funding.
“On it’s merits it is fairly unique and pretty sophisticated, these are not pie in the sky ideas, these are practical projects and a reduction needs to be proven to gain the money,” Mr Galligan said.
“They are implementing ideas they may have always wanted to do but didn’t have the means, they are practical projects delivering an environmental benefit coming from the best person to manage the project which is on the farm.”
The Rossi family in Aloomba used funding from the program to purchase compost spreading equipment. The use of compost on their crops has reduced the application of chemical nitrogen fertiliser by 30 per cent.
Tony Rossi said they were doing what any home gardener would do but on an industrial scale.
“Organic nitrogen tends to stick to the soil a lot better. We are now using natural sources of nitrogen with soy bean in the fallow and then a combination of mill mud, pea mulch, bio solids, cane bagasse and cane trash as compost,’’ Mr Rossi said.
“The Reef Trust Tender has been good for us in providing financial security as we try out these new practices to reduce our rates of applied nitrogen.”
Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership Chair Joe Marano said 29 growers in the Wet Tropics had been successful in receiving funding through the project so far.
“One of the main benefits of the Repeated Tenders is that growers can choose what practice changes they think will be most effective in improving nitrogen management on their particular farm,” Mr Marano said.
The 29 growers involved in the program so far are trialing solutions, including improved fertiliser budgeting and the use of legumes and biological fertilisers as an alternative source of nitrogen, as well as controlled release fertilisers and specialised equipment for precision farming.
Mr Marano said that one of the key lessons coming out of the Reef Trust Tenders project ws that growers were able to reduce their use of nitrogen fertiliser without affecting their yields.
“This project is proving to be a good result for farmers’ profits as well as water quality and the third round opening this month is an opportunity for more growers looking for ways to reduce their nitrogen fertiliser to benefit from funding,” he said.
Workshops will be held at Mossman, Gordonvale, Innisfail, Tully, Ingham and Ayr next week to help growers with the application process, which closes on March 5.
NQ Dry Tropics Project Officer, Shakira Todd said the Burdekin workshop would allow growers to meet local agronomists and get farm-specific advice, which they could use to develop their tender bids.
NQ Dry Tropics will host the Burdekin event at the Ayr PCYC on Monday at 9am, while Wet Tropics Sugar Industry Partnership will host an information session in Tully at Mill Hall on Monday at 10am.
Other sessoins will be held in Ingham on Tuesday at the HCPSL at 9am, Mourilyan on Wednesday at the Australian Sugar Heritage Centre at 9.30am, Gordonvale at Canegrowers on Wednesday at 2pm and in Mossman at Mossman Ag Services at 9am next Thursday.